Warm handshakes, face-to-face conversations, and eye contact have been important pieces of the sales process for as long as sales has existed. And even though those human touches are still important, they have been replaced by technology in a lot of ways, particularly in the early steps of the lengthy B2B customer journey.

It's estimated that in B2B deals, on average 57% of the buyer's research (most of it online) is conducted before any contact is made between buyer and seller. Though that's convenient for the buyer, the seller is under a lot of pressure to be physically present as soon as possible; and the marketing team is also under pressure—to make sure it has plenty of relevant content readily available for buyers to find.

Moreover, the seller's marketing and sales teams must now coordinate on what makes for relevant content, as well as communicate about what touchpoints the buyer has had with the vendor. Both parts of the team need to be aligned on what messaging to use and how the conversation progresses.

What Still Happens

However, too often these days, when I'm approached by a vendor looking to sell my company something, it looks more like this:

  • Step 1: I get an unsolicited email from someone I've never heard of, pitching a product or service I've never heard of, that I might or might not need. The email tells me how many things I've been doing wrong, how much money they can save me, or how their other customers have achieved greatness with the product or service.
  • Step 2: A few days later, I get a follow-up email asking me to confirm that I received the first email. Or, even worse, they send me an unsolicited mail through LinkedIn.
  • Step 3: I get an unsolicited phone call from a salesperson asking me to confirm that I received the previous emails and wanting to tell me everything in the first email while they have me on the phone. They rarely ask me about my business challenges or even acknowledge what we do.
  • Step 4: I continue to get irrelevant emails about the success of their customers in completely unrelated industries, and promoting an upcoming webinar in which I'm not interested.
  • Step 5: I unsubscribe from their email blasts and directly tell the sales guy to stop calling and remove me from their marketing automation platform and CRM.

And that is how you turn a prospect into not-interested in a few weeks—or even a few seconds.

Let's look at the mistakes: Step 1 was actually not all bad. Email outreach is a first step that many companies rely on. Even the follow-up email was OK, but from there, it went off the rails:

  • The sales rep failed to inquire about my challenges. If reps don't know my struggles, they don't know whether I actually need their product.
  • The examples of customer success they sent weren't relevant for my industry.
  • They started pitching me directly without considering that my colleagues would have a voice in any decision.
  • They overwhelmed me with content that wasn't relevant because they clearly didn't understand my business or challenges.

All that boils down to this: Generic emails don't work. You need to personalize your introduction. Invite me to a webinar or reference a mutual business contact, or mention something I said on LinkedIn or recent news from my company—anything that shows you care enough to do more than copy and paste my email address.

When ABM Enters the Scene

The recent account-based marketing (ABM) boom highlights that need to keep Sales, Marketing, and Product coordinated as they target specific, high-value accounts.

That need is especially important because buying decisions typically involve multiple people at the target account. The purchasing team might include various people, ranging from the end user to IT, Procurement, and the C-suite. Marketing and Sales need to know who those people are, and then provide content that is relevant to all of them.

A lot of ABM and sales-enablement vendors talk about how companies can use their technology to scale customer contact, which is often their fancy way of saying they'll help send a bunch of generic emails that won't get read. Despite talk about futuristic things like artificial intelligence in ABM, the human touch is as important as ever. Moreover, ABM requires a team that actually understands your customers and their businesses—and, just as important, your sales process and sales people.

That's because the magic really happens when Sales and Marketing work together to pursue the big opportunities. Which is why deploying ABM as a managed service makes so much sense. It is not just about platforms, data, and dashboards; it is about people... the salespeople and the vendors. Bringing Sales and Marketing together to create a feedback loop on each account is the key to success. Otherwise, you're just handing people the keys to the car without making sure you know whether they can drive.

Despite what some vendors will tell you, ABM is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Once you buy the platform, the vendor needs to stay involved. The reasons are pretty straightforward: Those experts will have greater understanding of, and insight into, where the industry's pain points are, how buying decisions are made, and how to speak the same language as your customers.

Instead of picking one target at the account and going after him or her, it would be better to have sustained contact with everyone involved in a decision. For some of those decision-makers, you might want to engage directly. Others might need softer touches, such as digital ads, over a long period of time so they recognize the selling company's name when the purchase decision becomes imminent. And that's where ABM as a managed service becomes so important, because it takes experience and judgment to know what is needed to score those wins. At the end of the day, it is about revenue—whether you got the deal or not

Yes, ABM is a technology platform, but it is not only that. People still matter because ABM is foremost a methodology.

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ABM: Balancing Technology and a Human Touch to Maximize Sales Success

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image of David Ratcliff

David Ratcliff is managing director at Vendemore, a leading account-based marketing (ABM) partner for B2B companies with complex and long sales cycles.

LinkedIn: David Ratcliff